A little more than a decade ago China began imitating the United States, Britain, France and Germany by engaging in what Joseph Nye, termed “soft power,” a collection of methods used to extend a country’s influence on the world stage.
One example of Chinese “soft power” was the creation of hundreds of Confucius Institutes worldwide. Funding was available to Chinese language, history and culture. The first Confucius Institute opened in South Korea in 2004 and quickly spread to Japan, Australia, Canada and Europe. Today there are more than 100 Confucius Institutes at public and private universities in the United States and more than that number at American high schools. Writers of an article in “The Economist” estimate that the Chinese government spends $10 billion a year to promote its image abroad.
The Chinese government has made ample use of financial incentives to encourage the acceptance of Confucius Institutes on campuses worldwide. China pays $100,000 to each college or university that agrees to sponsor a Confucius Institute on their campus and annual payments are made over a five-year period. There appears to be a link between those schools with Institutes and full-paying Chinese students.
The Communist Party of China has made no secret that it considers Confucius Institutes a propaganda arm for the government. Chinese minister of propaganda, Liu Yunshan, in an article in “People’s Daily” wrote: “We want to coordinate the efforts of overseas and domestic propaganda and further create a favorable international environment for us.” Official Chinese positions on Tiananmen Square, Taiwan, human rights and Tibet are part of the information disseminated through the Institutes.
It is no accident that the ruling body of the Office of Chinese Language International, a branch of the Ministry of Education, coordinates all of the Institutes’ programs.
Within the past few years there has been pushback from several colleges and universities with regard to Confucius Institutes. In 2014, for example, more than 100 University of Chicago faculty members signed a petition portraying the information from Confucius Institute on their campus to contradict the university’s core academic values. The university did not renew its Confucius Institute contract. Neither did McMaster University in Canada renew its contract. Other universities followed suite, including, Pennsylvania State, Stockholm University, and the University of Lyon. But other schools in the United States continue to support their Confucius Institutes including, George Washington University, Tufts University, Portland State University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Still the controversy continues. In February 2018 Florida Senator Marco Rubio asked Miami Dade College and universities in North, South and West Florida, to shut down their Confucius programs. Along with many other U.S. government officials, Senator Rubio considers the Institutes a threat to America’s national security by institutionalizing Chinese propaganda on American colleges and universities. The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation also raised concerns about Chinese infiltration on American college campuses.
The Chinese government, quick to recognize a problem, has promised reforms.
Are Confucius Institutes an example of soft power becoming hard power? Or are Confucius programs just one piece of China’s plan to be recognized as a major player on the world’s stage?
Even this blogger, who clearly enjoys researching and writing articles about international students and trends in international student mobility, needs a vacation. There will be no blog postings in August. But I will come roaring back in September with new information and worldwide fall enrollment reports.
Ever since Deng Xiaoping opened up the economic levers in China in the 1980s, Chinese society has fundamentally changed. Unquestionably, one of the most significant worldwide developments of the past 30 years has been the economic growth in China. Millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. For the first time in its history, China has a huge middle class. The average per capita income for many people in China’s largest cities is roughly equivalent to the average income in Taiwan and South Korea.
By some estimates, by 2020, the Chinese middle class will outnumber the middle class in Europe. Nobel laureate economist, Robert Fogel, predicts that China’s economy will be 40 percent of global GDP by 2040.
Construction projects, high rise apartment buildings, gleaming airports and high speed rail trains are all part of China’s new landscape. But many of these changes have come at a price: pollution, inflation over six percent, food contamination and shoddy construction projects.
The family, once the cornerstone of Confusion teachings, appears to be changing. A generation of university-trained Chinese are no longer willing to take care of their aging parents and grandparents. Chinese “old age” or “old people” homes are crowded and new facilities continue to be built to meet demand.
Chinese university students are not immune to the economic and societal disruptions taking place in China today.
A university degree from a foreign institution, once considered a ticket to a comfortable middle class life in China, is no longer the case. According to Amanda Barry, the Chinese liaison director for the Australian National University, “The foreign degree isn’t the edge it used to be. Big employers in China go to job fairs of the top Chinese universities and can fill their graduate intake. They don’t need foreign graduates.”
Nor is a university degree a guarantee of a good paying job after graduation. According to an editorial in China Report, the average monthly salary of the 2017 Chinese college graduate decreased by 16 percent from 2016, to 4,014 yuan, or $590. And the number of university graduates when surveyed who indicated they would pursue advanced degrees decreased from 21.3 percent in 2016 to 9.7 percent in 2017.
As Chinese society changes so will the realities and expectations of Chinese university students. As Chinese universities improve teaching and research and continue to climb in world rankings, more Chinese students will opt to stay and study in China where they can establish valuable contacts for future employment.
The implications for future Chinese international recruitment is obvious.
In my last blog I quoted statistics from the QS Applicant Survey 2018 revealing the shifts in international students’ preferences and mobility patterns. More than 16,000 prospective international students participated in the survey.
This blog will examine one country who appears to be gaining both in reputation, application and enrollment: Canada.
The Canadian government and higher education authority has set a goal of enrolling 450,000 students by 2022. In 2017 495,000 international students enrolled in Canadian colleges and universities, five years ahead of schedule. The numbers reflect a 20 percent increase over the previous year.
Canada ranks number three as a top study destination for international students, after the United States and the United Kingdom.
Higher education is the fourth largest export in the Canadian economy and supports 170,000 jobs throughout the country.
Enrollments from China increased 28 percent and Indian enrollments increased by 25 percent. Enrollments from Vietnam and Iran also increased. Applications from Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe to date this year should reflect strong enrollments from these regions in the fall term.
President of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, President Karen McBride: “Our research shows that international students choose Canada because of the quality of the Canadian education system and our reputation as a safe and tolerant country.”
I would also add that the Canadian government, in concert with Canadian colleges and universities, created a strategic international marketing plan. When you request information on studying in particular school in Canada, you first get the reasons why you should study in Canada. And last year the Canadian government opened seven new visa centers in China to meet the growing demand from Chinese students to study in Canada. Finally, the Canadian government has implemented generous employment opportunities for international students after graduation.
QS Market Insights manager Dasha Karzunina put it best: Student mobility patterns are “on the precipice of transformation.” International student enrollment in Canadian schools is one indication of this transformation.
In March 2018 the 2018 QS Applicant Survey Report published the results of a global survey of study abroad students and the preferred countries of internationally mobile students.
The survey revealed the following:
While the United States and the United Kingdom remain the preferred study destinations, the survey results also revealed that both countries are losing market share to other destinations, especially Canada, Germany and Australia.
The “Trump Effect” and Brexit appear to be key (negative) factors in student preferences.
Countries offering classes in English and with low tuition or scholarship programs (like Germany) have experienced increased applications from international students.
The United States has received fewer applicants from students in several countries in the Middle East. The reasons are well known to anyone reading this article or newspapers.
For the first time, China emerged at the eighth most popular international student destination. This is a reflection, among other reasons, of the significant scholarships awarded to students in countries in China’s Belt and Road initiative.
There are other trends affecting international student mobility worth noting:
Southeast and East Asia are increasingly popular among international students.
Key factors include:
Low tuition and living costs
Proximity to home
English language courses and
Improvement in rankings
While these surveys reflect a point in time, March 2018, I think it safe to predict that when international student enrollments are reported in the fall, these statistics will hold and reflect the changes in international student preferences and mobility patterns. I don’t think this is a one-year phenomena. There is ample data to suggest that these changes have been occurring “sub rosa” for quite some time.